Womble Bond Dickinson has named Joel Pieper its new managing partner for Atlanta—one of the firm’s largest offices—as the one-year mark approaches since the trans-Atlantic union of North Carolina-based Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and U.K. firm Bond Dickinson.
“It was a very easy choice,” said Betty Temple, Womble’s U.S. chair. “Joel is highly regarded and trusted as a lawyer and person in this office. He’s a culture-carrier of the firm.”
Pieper, 57, has practiced at Womble since 1997, just a year after the firm opened its Atlanta office through a merger with the local firm Parker, Johnson, Cook & Dunlevie.
“This is a really dynamic and exciting place to practice law right now,” Pieper said. “In many ways tectonic plates have been shifting. We’re excited to be well positioned right now to take advantage of this.”
Womble’s Atlanta office is its third-largest, with 57 lawyers and 47 staff. Its main focuses are fintech, intellectual property, real estate, insurance and litigation.
Pieper, who will serve a six-year term, is a class action and mass tort litigator with a focus on building products disputes. He succeeds Michael Sullivan, who’d been the local managing partner since 2011. Sullivan continues his mass tort litigation practice at the firm.
Finding a ‘Sweet Spot’
Last year’s merger, which took effect Nov. 1, created a more than 1,000-lawyer firm with 26 locations across the United States and the United Kingdom.
The combination of two middle-market firms with strong regional roots created a trans-Atlantic firm focused on staying entrepreneurial and nimble, Temple said.
“We do the bet-the-company, sophisticated work, but the bulk of our work—our sweet spot—is the big middle-market tranche. We know how to play really well in that market,” Temple said, adding that there are a lot of regional start-ups and middle-market companies in the United States looking at expansion in the United Kingdom.
“We have a big London presence, but also a regional presence in the U.K., which plays well with our middle-market strategy,” she said.
“For one of these high-growth fintech companies in Atlanta doing a deal in the U.K., we can go straight to Leeds to handle the transaction,” she said, noting that Leeds is a busy U.K. fintech hub. “We can go point-to-point so clients don’t have to pay London or New York rates.”
When Womble and Bond Dickinson combined, Temple said, the firms expected that their tech, financial services and manufacturing clients would find the trans-Atlantic connection useful, but connections have arisen in other areas as well.
“When we first did this we thought we knew the kind of work that would go back and forth—and we’ve been surprised at what does,” Temple said. “We’ve got solar projects going back and forth from Bristol to Baltimore and Charlotte—and real estate work, which is often thought of as local. It’s not necessarily what you would think.”
“In this world, there are few clients that do not have aspirations to grow,” she said.
Womble’s U.S. offices are concentrated in the Southeast, but since the combination with Bond Dickinson it has opened an office in Boston, focused on life sciences and beefed up its California presence through a merger with intellectual property firm Blakely Sokoloff Taylor Zafman, which added 24 lawyers and patent agents in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and Orange County.
“Betty has really shaken up our firm and changed it,” said Sharon Johnson, an Atlanta partner who chairs Womble’s transactions department and serves on its executive committee. “It’s an exciting time.”
The IP practice in California connects with Womble’s patent and fintech work in Atlanta, she said, which is the hub for the firm’s fintech practice.
Johnson noted that the firm’s IP practice started in Atlanta with Jim Vaughn, who chairs the department. “For middle market clients, IP is a key asset,” she said.
Fintech practitioners resident in Atlanta include Ted Claypoole, who has a tech transactions practice advising both fintech startups and big banks, and Steve Middlebrook, who advises financial services companies on emerging payments technologies.
“For someone who wants to be an entrepreneurial lawyer, this is a unique situation and platform, thanks to Betty and her leadership,” Pieper said. “You can’t find a lot of opportunities like that with firms of our size.”